A Difficult Hand

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Controversially tough-on-crime Rodrigo Duterte is no longer president of the Philippines. But, in an echo of protests that occurred when Duterte was in power between June 2016 and June 2022, demonstrators recently took to the streets of the Filipino capital, Manila, to protest against violence and extrajudicial killings in the Southeast Asian country.

The events included destroying an effigy of the new Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., reported Outlook, an Indian news publication.

As Reuters explained, police killed more than 6,200 people as part of Duterte’s crackdown on the illegal drug trade in the Philippines. Marcos has attempted to curb that policy somewhat, saying he would shift to rehab and education for drug offenders. But he’s still pursuing a tough-on-crime strategy. Since he assumed office, police have launched 24,000 drug raids, arrested around 30,000 people and killed around 12 suspects.

Marcos has also claimed that police corruption has stymied efforts to reduce the drug trade. Officials recently asked 300 police commanders to resign in order to reform law enforcement in the country. “It appears that there is a big problem in our police force. It appears there are generals and colonels involved in drugs,” said Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. at a news conference covered by the Associated Press. “We need to clean our ranks. We need the trust of the people.”

Similarly, Marcos has refused to release former senator Leila de Lima, a Duterte critic whom activists say was jailed solely because she crossed Duterte, illustrating how the new president’s commitment to human rights might not be so enthusiastic, the Nation magazine wrote.

As Marcos attempts to grapple with lingering domestic problems, he is also attempting to advance an international agenda that builds on Duterte’s legacy, particularly with China and the US.

The president recently visited China aiming to shift relations between the two countries to a “higher gear” after Duterte failed to improve relations with the country, the Diplomat wrote. But Marcos has also secured closer military ties with the US, putting him at odds with Chinese officials who want to push back against American influence in the region, noted the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

He ended the visit with trade deals and a promise to work more closely on disputes over the South China Sea, Kyodo News added. That showed signs of progress, but is hardly a diplomatic breakthrough.

Marcos has a difficult hand to play, and he can’t ask for a reshuffle.

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